Preserving and promoting Baltimore's historic buildings and neighborhoods.
Our education programs include technical assistance to property owners, heritage education around the Civil War Sequicentennial and the Bi-Centennial of the War of 1812, and our ongoing Race and Place in Baltimore Neighborhoods project.
Baltimore Heritage is thrilled that Juneteenth is receiving more attention this year. This day commemorates when the last enslaved people received news of emancipation. In recognition of this profound holiday, we would like to share some information on Baltimore’s role in the slave-trade in the 19th century. One of our dedicated volunteers, Richard Messick, has spearheaded this research and in his guest blog below, he gives us some insight into what he has found. Thank you Richard!
I once took a tour at Hampton National Historic Site by Park Ranger Anokwale Anansesemfo called “Forced Servitude at Hampton.” The tour described the variety of labor used by the Ridgely family to operate their estate: indentured servants, prisoners of war, and the enslaved community. It was a profound and moving experience that sent me off on a research project to learn more about slavery in Baltimore.
After its incorporation in the late 18th century, the population of Baltimore grew very quickly. One of the many “trades” that grew along with the city was the sale of enslaved people. Two things contributed to this phenomenon. First, local farmers had shifted from a labor-intensive tobacco crop to the growing of cereal grains, which required less work. This caused a surplus of slave labor. Secondly, Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin in 1793. This new machine could quickly and easily separate cotton fibers from their seeds. From this, the cotton industry became incredibly profitable, which caused an increase in the need for cheap and enslaved labor in the South.
The market for the sale of people that grew up in and around Maryland was extensive. From here, I began locating and mapping the places in early 19th century Baltimore where enslaved people were sold. One resource in particular, Ralph Clayton’s book, Cash for Blood: The Baltimore to New Orleans Domestic Slave Trade, was very helpful. Although many of the associated buildings no longer exist, the overall map shows the deeply interwoven relationship between the trade of human beings and our streets of Baltimore.
All of our core programs at Baltimore Heritage rely on volunteers to plan them, organize them, and run them. We’d like you to meet some of these great people, and so we’re starting a series called Volunteer Spotlight to share a little about those who are helping us make a difference.
Our first Volunteer Spotlight features Richard Messick, who has been volunteering with Baltimore Heritage since 2014. When he began working with us, he was first tasked with captioning photos and editing articles for our website. Then Baltimore Heritage received a grant for the Legacy Business Program, and Richard jumped in. To date, he has identified, researched, and written articles on 10 Legacy Businesses that have operated in the city for a century or more. Richard also fabulously leads our tour, Catacombs, 100-Year Vendors and History at Lexington Market, and is a volunteer docent at Evergreen House.
In addition to our gratitude for all of Richard’s work, here’s what one happy tour participant recently said after taking Baltimore Heritage’s tour at Evergreen: “I recently took a friend to the Xmas tour of Evergreen. It was a first experience for both of us and one not to be missed by anyone interested in art, architecture or design. Our guide, Richard Messick, was excellent and knew the house backwards and forwards.”
Read the below Q&A session to get to know a little more about Richard.
Q: How did you get involved with Baltimore Heritage?
A: I grew up with Andrew Colletta, a Baltimore Heritage board member, and we cut our tour-guide-teeth exploring Baltimore together. We would take visiting friends on our “Funky Balmer Tour,” a circuit of hidden gems around the city that always ended with a deli stop. Andrew first told me about Baltimore Heritage.
In fact, Andrew and I became friends because of our mutual love of exploring. Baltimore is our home town. I was born in Baltimore, at the old St. Joseph’s Hospital when it was at Caroline and Oliver Streets.
Q: How long have you lived in Baltimore?
A: Besides an 11 year hiatus elsewhere, I have spent my whole life in Baltimore. Both parents were born and raised here.
Q: Where would you recommend new Baltimoreans go to learn about the city?
A: Highlandtown would probably be my first stop because its where so many ethnic mixes got their start. It’s still a wonderful mix of ethnicities and still a place to enjoy a variety of foods and meet different people. Food is the start in terms of getting to know another culture.
A: Evergreen [House]. It has a rich history and is filled with art—Asian ceramics; Japanese netsuke; 20th century paintings, sculpture, and art glass.
Q: What about Baltimore doesn’t get enough attention?
A: The legacy of slavery in Baltimore. Since I have delved into it, I have been amazed at what I don’t know. I have never considered the enormous market for enslaved people in Baltimore and Maryland during the 19th century. The marketing of people was very large here at that time. The change from raising tobacco to wheat in the region caused a surplus of labor, whereas the South needed more labor due to the invention of the cotton gin. Our country was built with cheap labor–indentured servants, slaves, and prisoners. We don’t give that enough attention.
Q: In one word, describe Baltimore:
A: Worn–like comfortable old clothes. The people and places are comfortable old clothes to me. My aforementioned life-long friend thinks Baltimore suffers from an inferiority complex, which may be true. We just need to put on our Sunday best a little more often just to remind ourselves of our rich, long and diverse history.
Baltimore Heritage’s Legacy Business Program highlights the city’s businesses that have survived for over 100 years and are still going today. Just as much as our harbor and our great neighborhoods, Baltimore’s longstanding businesses are a central part of what makes our city unique.
Imagine a horde of Christmas elves attacking a chorus line of Roman legionaries. Now if you wish to film this fever-dream, go to A.T. Jones & Sons on N. Howard Street. They have a warehouse filled with costumes from any period of history.
Alfred Thomas Jones started renting out costumes in 1868. He arrived in Baltimore from North Carolina in the spring of 1861. He was there to collect a $500 prize for a painting he submitted to a contest sponsored by the predecessor of the Maryland Institute College of Art (Maryland Institute for the Promotion of the Mechanic Arts). He was unable to return to N.C., however, after fighting broke out at the start of the Civil War. So, he settled into a new life as a teacher at the art school that awarded his prize.
Jones began buying costumes as a hobby in 1868. He purchased Confederate and Union army uniforms as well as parade and masquerade ball costumes. These costumes served Mr. Jones well as he was able to rent them for masquerade balls, a popular form of high society entertainment in the late 19th century. A costume from one season could be altered and rented the next.
Perhaps the largest of the masked balls of the late 19th century was the Oriole Pageant, sponsored by the Order of the Oriole. The first of these pageants was held in 1880 to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the settlement of Baltimore. The following year the society outdid itself with a three-day affair that included a parade through the city (illuminated with electric lights), concerts, a parade of boats in the harbor, and, of course, a masked ball. The B&O Railroad added extra cars to accommodate the crowds attending the festivities. All of these events required costumes, some of which were rented out by Mr. A.T. Jones.
The costume rental business included supplying local theatre companies. Many of the famous actors of the 19th century depended on the Jones family. Edwin Booth, the most illustrious of a Maryland family of actors, gave Jones some of his own props and costumes, such as a sword used in Hamlet and pound-of-flesh scales from Merchant of Venice.
The most loyal and long lasting customer of A.T. Jones & Sons is the Gridiron Club, a journalistic organization in Washington, D.C., made up primarily of news bureau chiefs. It was founded in 1885 and has been renting costumes annually since 1888 for their white-tie banquet that includes satirical skits directed at politicians and journalists. Some of the costumes for this event have been worn by John Glenn, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and news reporter Bob Schieffer.
A.T. Jones began by renting costumes for parades, pageants, and theatrical productions, as well as formal wear to young men who could not afford to purchase them. Through the next century and a half, his descendants and successors have adapted to the times and changing demands. From A.T., the shop went to his son, Walter Jones, Sr., then Walter’s widow, Lena, then their son, Walter “Tubby” Jones, Jr. The shop was eventually purchased by a long-time employee, George Goebel. His son Ehrich joined the business and has expanded the market to include opera and theatre companies throughout the United States. The inventory now includes everything from Aida to Elf the Musical.
The one costume that is of great demand every year is for Santa Claus. Ever since the first department store version of the fat, jolly, white-bearded old man made its appearance in the 19th century, there has been a run on large red suits with white trim every December. A.T. Jones is always ready to meet the demand from department stores and charitable organizations for Santa costumes.
Before we turn all of our attention to holiday planning, check out our upcoming heritage talks and tours to get to know even more about Baltimore’s history this winter season.
On December 15, join author Elaine Weiss for a lecture on her book, The Woman’s Hour: The Great Fight to Win the Vote, which chronicles the struggle for American female suffrage. Ms. Weiss’s book is so compelling that Steven Spielberg and Hillary Clinton are teaming up to turn it into a movie! This Thanksgiving, we are especially grateful for the women and men who fought for voting rights over a century ago.
On December 14, catch our last Lexington Market tour of the year. See behind-the-scenes at what Ralph Waldo Emerson dubbed “the gastronomic capital of the world” and the catacombs under the marketplace. Be sure to stock up on the candies and baked goods at the market for your holiday sweet tooth!
Finally, with Thanksgiving around the corner, we at Baltimore Heritage have a lot to be thankful for, starting with the kind volunteers who lead our tours, research and write about historic places for Explore Baltimore Heritage, join us in fighting for threatened historic landmarks, and so much more. You make our work possible. Thank you all!
— Johns Hopkins, Executive Director
PS: It’s the time of year when we both give thanks and look forward to the year ahead. It is also the time of year when we ask you to join or renew your membership support for Baltimore Heritage. Your gift makes our work possible.
The Baltimore Centennial Homes project, developed in collaboration between Baltimore Heritage and City Councilman James Kraft, recognizes families that have been in the same house for 100 years or more. Their stories show the changes that our communities and our city have experienced as well as the critical roles that neighborhoods and their families have played in keeping historic neighborhoods thriving.
Over 100 years ago, on October 22, 1918, two Baltimore natives of German ancestry purchased a house with ground rents at 3704 Greenmount Avenue on the eastern border of Baltimore’s Guilford neighborhood. The couple, Joseph Simon Wernig, Sr. and Caroline C. Hauhn Wernig, were the maternal great-grandparents of Edmond Francis Kohlhepp who presently lives in the same house. The Wernigs of 1918 had three children Mary Evelyn (Edmond’s grandmother), Harry Bernard and Joseph Simon, Jr. The property has remained occupied and in continuous ownership by a family member for 101 years.
The family patriarch, Joseph S. Wernig, Sr., owned the Joseph S. Wernig Transfer Company, one of the largest transfer companies in Baltimore City in the early part of the twentieth century. He had 172 horse-drawn wagons that rolled over the cobblestone streets of Baltimore.They transferred products such as paper goods, merchandise and furnishings from the train station to local businesses. The company also moved entire businesses such as McCormick Company, Inc. and Maryland Casualty Insurance Company to other locations in Maryland.
Upon his death in 1944, Wernig, Sr. conveyed the property at 3704 Greenmount Avenue to his wife, Caroline C. Wernig, and to his heirs thereafter in fee simple ownership. Unfortunately, Caroline died five years later in 1949. Prior to her death she decided that the house would be left to her daughter, Mary Evelyn, because her only living son, Joseph S., Jr., had inherited the family business.
In the early 1940’s when Mary E. was in her late teens, she met Edmond James Kohlhepp. Edmond was working behind the counter at the drug store located at the corner of Chestnut Hill Avenue and Greenmount Avenue. When Mary E. would cross the street and order ice cream, Edmond would always give her an extra dip, indicating even then, that he had a crush on her.
During World War II, Edmond J. Kohlhepp served in the Navy as a gunner on the Destroyer Escort, the USS Hissem. Years later his name was inscribed on the Destroyer Escort Memorial Plaque located in the main hall of the War Memorial Building in downtown Baltimore City.
Edmond J. and Mary E. began dating in December 1946. Two years later they married at the Blessed Sacrament Church (4200 block of Old York Road). The couple separated in 1962, and Mary E. moved into the Wernig house at 3704 Greenmount Avenue with her four children to live with her mother. By 1965 the couple divorced. 3704 Greenmount Avenue became the permanent residence of Mary E. and her children. In 1970, Edmond F.’s grandmother, M. Evelyn Wernig, died suddenly and left the house to her daughter Mary E. and her heirs, the four children–Edmond, Michael, Mary Ann, and Harry.
Edmond Francis, born in 1949, and his mother had many fond memories of the house and the neighborhood. He recalled the time she took the streetcar to La Paix Lane in the Towson area to visit her great uncle and aunt. From her relative’s house, Mary E. could look over to the Turnbull Estate and see the famous writer and novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald walking around in the backyard or swimming in the pool. Edmond F. also remembers his visits to Sherwood Gardens. One time, he even met Mr. Sherwood.
Some of Edmond F.’s fondest memories are of visiting the famous sculptor, Grace Hill Turnbull, twice a year for seven years from 1965-72. She lived in his neighborhood on Chancery Road, a few blocks northwest of their house. Although in her eighties, she was sharp as a tack and very knowledgeable about many topics. She always insisted that Edmond play her one of his recent musical compositions on her grand piano.
Mary E. Kohlhepp passed away in 2005 and the grand old house became the possession of the next generation. Upon the decision of the children of Mary E. Kohlhepp, the eldest son, Edmond F. Kohlhepp would occupy the house. On November 11, 2019, Baltimore Heritage was pleased to mount a Centennial Homes plaque on the Wernig/Kohlhepp house.